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Non-Paternal Events

Non-paternal events (abbreviated NPE and also known as not-the-parent-expected) may be much more common than is often recognized and may, in fact, be the reason so many Taylors have difficulty in their genealogical research. And, why they've turned to genetic genealogy for answers.

We are careful in discussing this subject; learning that one's direct paternal lineage isn't what one believed can be an unpleasant surprise. However, we believe that truth is usually better than falsity.

What are NPE?

NPE are also sometimes termed "not the parent expected" or "incorrectly ascribed paternity". For our purposes, it means a discontinuity in paternally-inherited surname — any event and/or series of events which lead to a child not bearing the surname his or her biological father was born with.

The diagram depicts a NPE producing a brick wall at the earliest known paternal ancestor. The actual paternal lineage is shown by the green line.


What's not a NPE?

We do not consider spelling variants (e.g., Taylor vs. Taylour) to be NPE because they were so common in the past. Prior to about 1840, standardized spelling was an unknown concept; names were written according to the way the writer heard them and his (often idiosyncratic) notions of how to write that sound.

Are NPE rare?

No, not rare at all. Estimates vary from a low of 1%  to as high as 10% of all births in a generation being NPE. Rates vary considerably depending on cultural norms, socio-economic conditions and other factors.

NPE are cumulative; the changed surname tends to continue down the lineage. Let's say that you want to look eight generations into the past, to find the parents of your 5th great-grandfather.

Since Y-DNA looks back very far indeed, it would be rare that an NPE or so doesn't turn up.

Taylor Data

A recent study of Taylor project members looked at the NPE prevalence question from the standpoint of Y-haplotype matches with the project surname vs. other names. It found that the probable rates for the two types of NPE were

In a recent instance, a project member had successive NPE within two generations, one right after another.

NPE Classification

NPE may be classified into one of two types:

Such classification is only relevant to a particular surname. Every NPE is an iNPE for one name and a eNPE for another.

NPE Causes

The different causes of NPE include, but are not limited to:

In general, bear in mind that surnames are a modern invention and more flexible and fluid than we tend to think.

How to tell if there's an NPE in my tree?

There are clues.

If your tree stops at a brick wall and you have matches outside your surname, NPE may be the reason for both. It is time to seriously consider the possibility.

How to deal with NPE; reaching beyond the brick wall

First, remember that your ancestors were just as human as any others who've walked the earth. Stuff happens and there's no reason to be embarrassed. It's not your fault and doesn't reflect on you.

Be sure not to restrict your search for DNA matches only to your own surname. The matches you need may be lurking just beyond your vision.

Next, recognize that NPE are often undocumented. Pulling out the facts may be difficult and may rely more on indirect genealogical evidence than direct.

Only diligent research, focused on concrete facts, can unravel the mystery. Narrow down the date, place and circumstances of that earliest known ancestor's birth to the maximum extent possible. Put out of your mind what your earliest known ancestor did as an adult -- unless it bears on his birth. Who he subsequently married and what children he had is not especially relevant to his parentage.

Search records of bastardy bonds, guardianships and apprenticeships -- if only to eliminate them as sources. You just might get lucky here.  Look at deeds, wills and probates. Again, you might get lucky with a mention of your ancestor.

Remember that (until very recently) for a birth to occur, mother and father must have had physical contact with each other. Usually, the contact was more than brief; they knew each other socially before conception and that implies proximity of residences. They met at church or community events and were attracted to each other.

The state, even the county, isn't an adequately precise location for birthplace or mother's home; you'll need to know the specific neighborhood, usually within walking distance. Were there nearby families with the other surname? Did they have sons of the right ages? Were any known as "ladies men" or did any disappear out of the area?

You will need to do an "exhaustive search" of records in that place to be certain you haven't overlooked relevant evidence. Pull all the information together by forming a working hypothesis and listing the arguments for and against it.

An entertaining and educational account of a 20th century adoptee's search for his birth family and, by extension, his ancestry is Richard Hill's "Finding Family: My Search for Roots and the Secrets in My DNA". (ISBN 13: 9781475190830)

Finally, be sure to read this page on the ISOGG site.

Revised: 14 Nov 2014